Lirac – Castles, Keeps, Wolves & Divas in the Southern Rhône

 

 

I’ve written about Lirac before. The wine I tasted then was sublime and was paired with a day of exquisite movies, so you didn’t have to twist my arm to join the #Winophiles in diving deeper into these wines. If you are reading this soon enough, consider joining us on Saturday October 20th (8am Pacific, 11 am Eastern) on Twitter by following the hashtag #Winophiles as we discuss this region and it’s wines. And…if you scroll to the bottom of the post you will find more great pieces on Lirac and it’s wines from the perspective of multiple wine writers!

Lirac AOC

Lirac (pronounce it LEE rock) is in the Southern Rhône and sits west of the Rhône River. Wine grapes have been grown here since the middle ages. While they make reds, whites and rosé in the region, you will primarily find red wines made here (87%).

Map of LIrac

Lirac is in the southern Rhône across the river from the more famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape (map Courtesy of Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Lirac is the southernmost cru within the Rhône and has been an appellation since 1947. They have some of the most stringent specifications in the region. The area sits in the Gard department and is out of the way from the traffic in the Rhône Valley. Off the beaten path, and across the river from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it has remained out of the spotlight in the Rhone and a bit of a secret.

Soils & Terroir

Galets Roulés or “pudding stones”

Galets Roulés or “pudding stones” in the vineyards of Lirac (Photo Courtesy of Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Plateaus of clay covered in Galets Roulés or “pudding stones” are where you will find the grapes for Lirac Rouge, the intense red wines of the region. Sandy soils typically grow reds for Lirac Rosé and then the scrubland is where you will find the white grape varieties for Lirac Blanc grown.

The vineyards here are set within 4 districts, or communes; Lirac, Roquemaure, Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres and Saint-Geniès-de-Comolas. The vineyards cover a total of about 1,760 acres and annual production is under 2 million bottles which is 0.5% of the total production within the Rhône Valley.

Home of the Côtes du Rhône

Lirac is the place that the “Côtes du Rhône” labeling began, with barrels in the 16th century labeled with CDR. Now you will find the bottles with an embossed logo of the region. This symbol on the bottle indicates a wine set to strict standards. In addition the new bottle strives to be environmentally friendly using recycled glass.

The Keep

The logo seems to me to pull influence from the ancient castle keep in Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres, the Tour Jacques-Deuze. The lower level of the this tower dates from the 12th century and the upper levels were added in the 14th century. As I wondered the internet researching, images of castles and keeps came up again and again.

The wines you will find are a balance of structure and strength with freshness and elegance. We also find many great stories…I haven’t gotten to the rest of that title yet have I? Read on.

The wines we tasted were provided as samples from Rhone Valley Vineyards, all opinions are our own.

Domaine Maby “Casta Diva” Lirac Blanc 2017

 

Domaine Maby Casta Diva 2017

Domaine Maby Casta Diva 2017

The Diva

Okay…here’s a wine with a story behind the name. “Casta Diva” refers to the aria in the Opera “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini. While the opera is a tragedy, this song is Norma’s prayer for peace.

Maria Callas version is thought to be the definitive interpretation of the song.

 

Norma the Opera

The opera…well it’s an opera, the reason “soap-operas” are called “Soap-Operas” is because they are all the drama while selling soap! Here’s the synopsis: Druids are being invaded by those Romans. A Roman proconsul, fell in love with a Druid priestess and she ran off and married him and had two kids. Norma’s people ask her to help them fight the Romans. She sings the song “Casta Diva” to pray for peace so her people and her love will all be okay. Roman dude, is planning to run off with another Druid chick. Of course, the chick confesses (sort of) to Norma, that she is betraying her people by falling for a Roman dude, little do either know that it is THE Roman dude, well that is until he walks in.

Norma gets mad and calls for war with the Romans. Roman dude trashes the temple and the Druids plan to kill him, but Norma stalls. She offers him his freedom if he gives up the other chick. He says no. In desperation, she confesses her sins to her father and the Druids and offers herself as sacrifice. Dude suddenly realizes he loves her as she is about to fry and jumps on the pyre with her and the show ends as they both go up in flames. Enough drama for you?

Domaine Maby

The Maby family started as a shoemaking family in the early 19th century, with a few plots of grapes they made wine with and sold locally. Today the vineyards cover 148 acres in Côtes due Rhône, Tavel and Lirac.

And the wine…

This is the one white wine in our sampling group. A blend of 68% Clairette Blanche and 32% Viognier,

“Grapes are gently pressed and then fermented in new oak barrels with frequent bâtonnage. During an additional three to four months aging in oak, malolactic fermentation is avoided.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Château de Montfaucon “Baron Louis” Lirac Rouge 2014

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Château de Montfaucon

The castle of Monfaucon was part of a line of fortresses on the Rhone River, but even before the castle was built, long before even the Greeks and the Romans, early prehistoric inhabitants found this site on the hill about the Rhône a refuge. The tower was built in the 11th century to guard against the Roman German Empire, and later to tax ships with goods coming down the Rhône. They added on to the castle in 1420 and it gained it’s triangular shape that remains to today. The first wines were made here in 1530. Wars in the 16th century damaged the castle and in 1880 Baron Louis restored the castle with a decidedly Scottish influence (that came from his mother). In 1995 Rodolphe de Pins took over the estate and today the estate has over 45 hectares of vines. (information from Château de Monfaucon)

The soils

The grapes for this blend grow in limestone and sandy loam.

The wine & the Castle

A tribute to the Baron Louis de Montfaucon, who restored the castle in the 19th century this is a Grenache driven blend with 50% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, 10% Carignan and 10% Mourvedre.

“all hand-harvested and destemmed. Co-fermentation lasted seven days followed by an additional two weeks of extended skin maceration. 70% of the blend was aged in oak barrels for 12 months and bottle aged for an additional eight months before release.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016 bottle shot

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016

The Wolves

(Okay…this is where the wolves come in.)

Domaine La Lôyane

Domaine La Lôyane is named for the region in which it is built which translated in ancient times to “territory occupied by wolves” (I am feeling all GoT on this, picturing packs of Dire Wolves roaming the vineyards).

Portrait of a gray wolf of Europe (canis lupus lupus) in the woods looking straight ahead.

 

 

The Domaine is located in the Rochefort du Gard and has vineyards there as well as Saint Laurent des Arbres and Saze. I found a lovely (translated) quote on their site.

“If we think that wine is hymn to Nature, that is wine grower’s work: master the alchemy between Soil and Plant.”

An old vine vineyard

This particular wine comes from “Les Theys” a site holding the oldest Grenache vines in all of Lirac at 150 years old. The wine is Grenache driven again with 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. A single vineyard Lirac

“Yields are very low at 20 hl/hectare—almost half the appellation norm at 34 hl/hectare. Fermentation and aging takes place in stainless steel with a small portion of each wine is raised in their collection of their ten neutral 60 hl demi-muid barrels.” (information from Rhône Valley Vineyards)

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013 bottleshot

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

First, this wine is Syrah driven and age worthy. It comes from 40 year old vines grown in clay and sand. It is 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Mouvedre, so a fairly classic GSM, but…. “Grapes are destemmed and undergo a 25 day fermentation in temperature controlled tanks. Wine is then blended and aged for 4 months in concrete vats that are buried 16.5 feet underground. The wine is then transferred to large oak barrels for 18 months.”

In 1961 Jean-Claude Assemat’s mother Marie Pons-Mure purchased Castel Oualou after returning from Northern Africa. Jean-François took over following his father’s death in 1988. They have 52 Hectares with Domaine Castel Oualou and have two other domaines under Vignobles Assemat.

The label

Castel Oualou label

Castel Oualou label with the Castel crossed out

You will notice that the castle on the label has an “X” through it. Here’s the story:

“Jean-François’ grandmother planted selected vines – Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre – those vines peculiarly suited to the region. Then came the first harvest, the first bottling … and the first label with its fairytable castle. However, as legislation does not allow anything to appear on the label which does not actually exist, it was decided to cross out the picture of the castle.
This is how the name CASTLE OUALOU came into being, with its logo – a castle crossed out.”

(Information from http://www.chateauneuf.dk/Lirac/en/lien31.htm)

I suppose Marie Pons-Mure, might also be considered a “Diva” for not just removing the picture of the castle, but defiantly crossing it out. (Go Girl!)

Did we actually taste the wines?

Why yes, yes we did. These beautiful samples were sent our way by Rhone Valley Vineyards and we did dive in for a tasting and a little pairing.

Domaine Maby tasting and pairing

Just to recap this wine is 68% Clairette Blanche and 32% Viognier and is fermented in new oak.

I searched through tasting notes and pairing suggestions to find pairing ideas. We started with the Domaine Maby. Suggested pairings were charcuterie and grilled fish. Our season has changed and while we got to 71 degrees today, the light has changed and you can see and feel fall in the air. Grilled fish spoke to me of summer and I needed to make this dish a little warmer. I settled on making packets of cod and pototoes. A simple preparation with olive oil, butter, Lemon, sliced almonds, salt & pepper will do us for dinner. I also wanted to set up a cheese plate to taste with ahead of time. One of the tasting notes I read suggested decanting this wine as the oak was very prominant. Tasting notes mentioned: lemon rind, pear, apricot, vanila, almond, verbena, white flowers, exotic fruit, spearmint, toast and mango-guava jelly. So in anticipation I picked up a lemon, some sliced almonds, a fuji apple, and some mango-guava-passion fruit jelly. The Vin-Lirac suggestion for cheeses was a hard goat cheese. At the market asking for a hard goat cheese the Murray’s Cheese counter did not let me down and pointed me to a Cypress Grove – Midnight Moon. This is a version of the Dutch aged goat Gouda.

As the cork came out of the bottle the aromas swept into the room, hitting my nose with freshly sliced apple. This wine is LARGE when opened. I determined I would taste it immediately in all it’s glory. This Diva makes an entrance. In addition to the freshly sliced apple there is something a little more exotic and tropical. I stuck my nose in the mango-guava jelly…yep there is this bit of guava, it’s the scent of an exotic perfume on the air as a beautiful woman passes by. On my palate she was lighter than I expected, walking on point shoes across my tongue.

The wine and the fuji apple, were like to peas in a pod, mirroring each other. The cheese was salty & tangy & deep, the philosopher friend that the Diva is enamored with. They play off each other and are stunning together. I decided to decant part of this wine and sequester the rest in the bottle so we could compare the two later. We found that while the decanting took the edge off, it took more off than we would like. (Thank goodness I only decanted a little). The wine went beautifully with our fish and potato packets, the acidity cut through the potatoes and butter and the lemon zest on top highlighted the wine. I will admit that my favorite pairing bite of the night was the Midnight Moon with a bit of mango-guava-passion fruit jelly. It made the wine sing! (Sing Diva Sing!)

On to the Reds!

With the red wines, we opened them mid day to taste and then went on to pair with them in the evening with some friends. Pairing suggestions for these wines ranged from beef or lamb, to roast game or stew to grilled game, stew, pigeon or cheeses. We headed for the common denominator and went with a beef stew then put together a cheese plate with some complimentary flavors.

Our selection of cheeses was contained within semi hard cheeses and included Pecorino Romano, a Beehive Apple Smoked Walnut Cheese, Grand Queso Sole and a Beehive Promotory. We added strawberries to pair with the grenache in these blends as well as blackberries and cherries for the syrah and some blueberries and raspberries for good measure. Walnuts, pecans, honey, some tomato marmalade, summer sausage, crackers and bread rounded out our plate. And…I made a little dish of dried lavender to see if I really was finding this on the nose of the La Lôyane.

Cheese plate to pair with the red wines of Lirac

La Lôyane Vielles Vignes Lirac Rouge 2016 tasting

This was the first bottle that we opened to taste through. As a reminder, this is a 60/40 Grenache/Syrah blend and the Grenache comes from 150 yr old vines.

I loved the nose on this, getting crushed pepper and black fruit followed by cocoa and an air of saltiness, black currants and cooked blackberries, then subtle floral notes, yes…lavender with it’s pepperiness. There was a little Syrah funk that came and went and later a bit of violets snuck out. And maybe it’s just me, my brain suggesting it, but I get something ancient on the nose, and a little wild forest (I’m picturing wolves again).

The tannins on this wine hit my teeth like a fine powder. As we tasted this wine, we were having a bite of lunch (lasagna, not what I would have paired with it, but…) and the wine was lovely with our lunch. While great on it’s own (someone called it a meditation wine) it is really good with food pairings. This wine by the way runs just $16. I will admit that I was really sucked in by the depth of the nose on this wine. It was a deep dark wine with some purple to the color.

Château de Montfaucon “Baron Louis” Lirac Rouge 2014

On to our second wine. This was a blend of 55% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 15% Syrah 10% Carignan and 5% Mourvedre.

It is a 2014 which you could tell by the rim. The color was more to the ruby tones. I got cocoa first on the nose followed by red fruit.

It reminded me of dessert, a chocolate mousse dusted with cocoa and topped with a raspberry.

As it opened up I got more floral notes and pepper after a while. This wine runs $24. And it was our friend Renae’s favorite wine of the evening.

Domaine du Castel Oualou Cuvée fût de Chêne Rouge 2013

As we opened the third wine, the first thing I got when I opened the bottle was sweet pickle relish. Perhaps a little Volatile Acid? It dissapated fairly quickly. This wine was 50% Grenach 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. The palate was lighter on this wine and you could tell it was a little older by the color, and the rim. I got caramel on the palate here. I went back to the La Lôyane briefly and when I put my nose back into this wine it hit me as sweet by comparison, which I found really interesting. This wine runs $20.  This was Michael’s favorite he felt it was the most balanced of these wines.

All in all these were really wonderful wines, most especially at this price point! And they all paired well with the stew as well as the cheese plate and the company.

If you would like more information on the wines of this region visit rhone-wines.com or more specifically rhone-wines.com/en/appellation/lirac

Many of my fellow #Winophiles will have additional pairing suggestions and great information on these and other wines from Lirac and the Southern Rhone.  Check out their posts below!  And join us Saturday October 20th (9am Pacific time) for a conversation about this region and it’s wines on twitter.  Just follow #Winophiles!

Cahors – Malbec from along the winding river Lot

Three Malbecs from Cahors France

We’ve all heard of Malbec.  First thought that popped in your head?  Big bold Argentinian Malbec.  Right?  This month with the French Winophiles we are exploring Cahors, France the original home of Malbec.

History of Cahors

This region sits in the south west of France about 100 miles east of Bordeaux in the Midi-Pyranees and is divided by the Lot river that does a half a dozen or more “S” curves through the area.  The original home of Malbec, here it is often known as Côt or Auxerrois.   First planted by the Romans, the Englishmen named the wine from this area “The Black Wine of Cahors”.  It is said that if you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not from Cahors.  At one time widely known throughout the wine world, the 100 years war and later phylloxera dampened it’s growth.

The city of Cahors from Mont Saint Cyrin along the river Lot in France

The city of Cahors from Mont Saint Cyrin along the river Lot in France

Cahors is also the name of the city at the eastern end of the area that sits on the last of those hairpin turns of the river Lot.  The Pont Valentré has become the symbol of the town.  It is a 14th-century stone arch bridge crossing the Lot River on the west side of Cahors.

The Pont Valentré in Cahors France

The Pont Valentré in Cahors France

 

The AOC and the wine region

Map of the South West of France

Cahors is located in the South West of France North of Toulouse

The AOC was founded in 1971 and produces only red wine.  The terroirs here are divided into the Vallée – the valley that runs near the river; the Coteaux – the terraces up the sides of the cliffs and the Plateau, which sits at around 980 feet and has limestone soils.  The wines of the Vallée and Coteaux tend to be more fruit forward, where as the wines from the Plateau have a bit more finesse due to the wide diurnal shifts (day to night temps) which make for slower ripening and a later harvest.

Countryside and local cuisine

The country side here is out of a storybook with villages perfect for biking, boating on the river and hot air ballooning.  It is also home to many Michelin starred chefs, due in no small part to the abundance of truffles in the region.  The annual truffle festival early each year brings people from far and near to bid on truffles from vendors walking the street. The region is also noted for chestnuts, wild mushrooms, foie gras, goose, duck and walnuts.  All of these things play beautifully with the local wine.

The wines

While I was doing that fabulous Grower Champagne tasting last month at Valley Cheese and Wine, I was thinking about this month and our Cahors tasting.  So…before I left, I picked up a bottle of Cahors and a cheese that Kristin suggested to pair with it.  We later picked up two other wines to compare, of the 3 we ended up with 3 different vintages.

 

Château du Cèdre – Cèdre Heritage 2014

Cedrè Heritage 2014 Malbec from Cahors

Cedrè Heritage 2014 Malbec from Cahors

This wine is 95% Malbec and 5% Merlot

This family estate is run by Pascal and Jean-Marc Verhaeghe.  They have 27 hectares of vienyards growing 90% Malbec with 5% each of Merlot and Tannat.  They do have a little bit of white grapes growning with a hectare of Viognier and then a little bit of Sémillon, Muscadelle and Savignon Blanc.  Vines here are between 10 and 60 years old.

Verhaeghe might not sound French to you.  Well that would be because the name is Flemish.  Charles Verhaeghe started a farm in the area in 1958.  His father Léon had left Flanders for south west France in the early 20th century. They planted some vines and added to the plots each year.  Charles bottled his first wine in 1973.  His sons Jean-Marc and Pascal now run the estate.

The vineyard was certified Organic in 2012.  The vineyard is divided into three parts.  The largest section sits on lime stone soils, it has a southwest orientation and produces wines with very fine tannins.  The other 2 plots face south.  The soil here is red sands and pebbles with clay below.  These wines have a bit more power.

Maison Georges Vigouroux

This Maison spans four generations since 1887 with Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux now at the helm as winemaker.  In 1971 they replanted Haute-Serre, the first vineyard replanted in Cahors after the phylloxera.  They increased the density of planting to reduce the yield and stress those grapes.  They find that this increases the delicacy of their wines.  They now own around 150 hectares of vineyards and are considered to be the premiere producers of Malbec in the region.  They have 4 wineries and produce a variety of styles of Malbec.

Wine/Agro-tourism is also a focus for Georges Vigouroux.  They have “La Table de Haute-Serre” a restaurant at the Château de Haute-Serre winery and are devoted to promoting the local products that enhance and pair perfectly with the  wine.  They do tours, workshops and cooking classes.  The Château de Mercuès is a luxury Winery Hotel in Occitanie that immerses it’s guests in a high end wine country experience.

We found 2 wines locally from this producer:

Antisto Cahors 2013

Antisto 2013 Malbec from Cahors

Antisto 2013 Malbec from Cahors

This wine from Georges Vigouroux is 100% Malbec and comes from slope vineyards in Cahors (that would be the Coteaux vineyards we spoke of above).  These are clay-limestone or gravel and silt on terraces overlooking the Lot Valley.  They list the winemaking method as short maceration and long fermentation.  This wine can age for 5-8 years.

They also do an Antisto Mendoza, the idea is to have the ability to compare Malbec from France and Argentina, done in the style of the region.

Atrium Malbec Cahors 2016

Atrium 2016 Malbec from Cahors

Atrium 2016 Malbec from Cahors

Another wine from Maison Georges Vigouroux.  Their website speaks of the name of this wine in this way

“Place of convergence in the Roman house, the atrium is also the centerpiece of castles, the forecourt of cathedrals … Another theory also suggests that the word atrium is derived from the adjective “ater”, which means “black”: a a haven of choice for Malbec.”

The grapes for this wine are again grown on hillsides.  It is a Cuvée from multiple vineyards and is aged on oak for 6 months.  This wine is a blend, of the region’s 3 main varieties, Malbec, Merlot and Tannat.

The Atrium name is also the overall name for the group of boutique wineries that highlight the wines from Southwest France.  They continue this local focus with wine/agro-tourism, promoting local products that pair perfectly with their wines.

Tasting and Pairing

When I picked up the bottle of Cèdre Heritage at Valley Cheese and Wine, I asked Kristen for a recommendation for a good cheese to pair.  She set me up with a raw cows milk cheese from Sequatchie Cove Creamery http://www.sequatchiecovecheese.com/

in Tennesee called Coppinger http://www.sequatchiecovecheese.com/index/#/candice-whitman/

This is a semi-soft washed rind cheese with a layer of decorative vegetable ash down the center.  This cheese is not a flavor bomb, rather it is comfortable, like the quiet but really interesting person sitting by the window.

In addition we picked up bleu cheese (gorgonzola), some prosciutto, sliced strawberries, fig jam, raw honey and walnuts.

Cheese platter

Cheese platter with Sequatchie Cove Creamery’s Coppinger cheese, gorgonzola, prosciutto, walnuts, fig jam, honey and strawberries

For dinner we paired beef barbeque, herbed potatoes and a salad.

Beef barbeque with herbed potatoes to pair with three Malbecs from Cahors

Beef barbeque with herbed potatoes to pair with three Malbecs from Cahors

Impressions

The wines spanned a few years and we tasted them youngest to oldest.

The 2016 Atrium had black plum and tobacco and unsurprisingly, as it was the youngest, seemed the brightest.  I really enjoyed this with the gorgonzola.

The 2014 Cèdre Heritage gave black cherry and ground cinnamon.  It had tart acid and opened up to give off more leather and barnyard.

The 2013 Antisto felt like the most complex on the nose with leather, black plum, fresh eucalyptus leaves.  It was a little less complex on the palate, but I had a hint of black olive that appeared later as it opened.  This went beautifully with the fig jam.

I will admit that all of these wines were purchased for under $20.  I enjoyed them, but didn’t have my socks blown off.  They all disappated fairly quickly on my palate.   I look forward to locating and exploring more wines from Cahors and noting the differences in wine styles and vineyard locations.  Perhaps a Malbec comparison with French and Argentinian wines is in order!

I look forward to hearing about the other Malbecs my fellow French #Winophiles tried, as well as their pairings and finding more wines from this region to search for!

The French #Winophiles

This group of writers monthly take up a French wine or region to taste, pair and discuss!  If you want to join us for the discussion, it will happen on Twitter on Saturday September 15th at 8 am Pacific Time, 11 am Eastern Standard Time.  Just jump on and follow #Winophiles!

Here are the other great pieces on Cahors!

Rob from Odd Bacchus tells the real deal on Cahors: A LOT to Love

Liz from What’s In That Bottle paints the place Red Wine & Black All Over

Wendy from A Day In The Life On The Farm tempts the crowd with Basque Chicken Stew paired with Black Wine

Payal from Keep the Peas gives us a bit of everything we want with White Wine, Red Wine, Black Wine, Cahors!

Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla gets the party going with Grilled Lamb Sirloin with Cedre Heritage 2015

Rupal from Journeys Of A Syrah Queen inspires and delights with Crocus Wines – Exploring Cahors With Paul Hobbs

Jeff from Food Wine Click may be getting us in trouble with Forbidden Foods and Stinky Cahors

Jill from L’Occasion, will share Cahors: Your Favorite Wine For Fall

Break open a bottle of French Malbec and enjoy a selection of great reads!

And don’t forget to follow us at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram